Sexual ethics and politics lie at the core of how we understand and practice our sexual lives. They form the basis from which we understand and engage with diverse and different sexualities – the description of which includes different sexual identities, values, relations, orientations, behaviours and practices. Our explicit as well as implicit ethical thinking and feeling about sexuality are a significant way of understanding, analysing, evaluating and judging sexuality as a personal, public and social construct. It contributes to our exploring of ascriptions of both positive and negative values to sexual practices that have impacts on those who do them and on the societies in which they are done. These evaluations and judgements bear on the existential, philosophical, psychological, social, political and emotional aspects of our sexual life. They speak to blends of legal and cultural (nomos) permissions, prohibitions or regulatory forms that characterise the legal, social, cultural and political means by which sexualities are subjects of discourse, law and politics in contemporary societies.
Sexual ethics provides a means of reasoning about what is pathologised, prejudiced against and discriminated against, and what is held up as healthy, virtuous and legitimate. It seeks to cut through discursive silences, aesthetic impressions, poorly reasoned judgements, and illegitimate and oppressive state and public responses to erotic pleasures and desires. In the process of doing so, sexual ethics challenges the vocabularies, discourses and meanings that are publically propagated and supplants them with reasoned, careful, humane and critical thinking. It should be conceptually clear, deliberatively justified and critically reflexive, and should enrich debates through using a range of insights from philosophical traditions, the social and natural sciences, psychology, and from the humanities, history, law, art and culture. Sexual ethics forms the basis not simply for analyses of the vagaries and ills of contemporary moral values, legal rules and political and cultural discourse on sexuality; it allows us to explore and creatively imagine and further better values, discourse and rules in more enlightened societies.
This is, by its very nature a political process. The sexual is political and just as sexual politics should be enriched by emancipatory ethical thinking, sexual ethics should connect with contemporary sexual activism, politics and practices aiming at the realisation of sexual emancipation, equality and justice.
Thinking sexual ethics and politics is a way of grappling with and critically exploring the problems and possibilities of our sexual lives. This acknowledges the many and diverse ways we think about and respond to our and other people’s sexualities, the contexts of sexual rights and justice, and key developments such as sexual commerce and work, sexual health and illness, sexual liberty and repression. Often a focus on the sexual leads beyond the sexual, and a focus on other facets of social life leads to interesting developments in thinking about the sexual.
INSEP, the International Network for Sexual Ethics and Politics, seeks to promote:
- Critical understandings of the ethical problems and possibilities for diverse sexualities;
- Critical understandings of the discourses, vocabularies and bodies of knowledge by which sexuality is conceived, understood and articulated in contemporary societies, and their historical lineages;
- Critical awareness and evaluations of the beneficence or malfeasance of particular articulations of sexuality, strengths or deficiencies of different sexual cultures and discourses, their historical antecedents and their contemporary patterns of prejudice, pathology and discrimination or practice and advocacy, as well as emergent sexual politics aiming at emancipation and liberation;
- Critical understandings of the role of law, politics and culture in the prohibition, permission or regulation of sexualities, both in its oppressive deployment and possibly liberating possibilities in contemporary societies;
- And, finally, critical and constructive engagements with sexual ethics itself, thinking through its forms, role and meanings, and its history, present and future.
We see sexual ethics and politics as a critical and discursive enterprise. It is informed by transdisciplinary approaches and characterised by the application of reasoned deliberation and judgement in sexual scholarship. Ethical-political discourses on sexuality are enriched by the insights from both empirical and theoretical work, and by concrete legal, cultural, social, social psychological and political analyses as well as philosophical engagements. We see the ethical commitment of such engagements twofold: developing and extending scholarship and knowledge; and informing legal, policy and political debate in such a way as to encourage change that is ethical and illuminate that which is unethical. As such, we focus on both conceptual and theoretical debates and their political articulation in contemporary societies.
INSEP sees the value in the fullest range of approaches to the study of sexual ethics and politics. This includes: gendered and feminist perspectives; distinctive lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and transsexual perspectives; queer perspectives; and more general approaches such as liberalism, Marxism and democratic theory. INSEP seeks to be an inclusive space for discussion, welcoming dialogue and vigorous debate, but not sectarianism.
The network operates through this website, conferences and other events and workshops. INSEP will also publish a peer reviewed journal, Sexual Ethics and Politics, published by Barbara Budrich Publishers. We will also be launching a book series with the same publisher.
INSEP is not a political organisation and the views of its members are not to be taken as the view of the network. The network is hosted by the Center for Ethics and Value Inquiry (CEVI) at Ghent University, Belgium.
Anyone interested in joining INSEP, would like to suggest an initiative or activity, are welcome to contact the convenors.
Reader in Sociology and Social Philosophy
Edge Hill University, UK
Associate Professor of Ethics
Ghent University, Belgium